Chapter 23: Foreign Affairs

Keenin moved a white piece across the chessboard. The more he focused on these small amusements, the less he had to think of where he would end up; swallowed by fate and the tide of clashing blades. Dia leaned dangerously on the other side of the board contemplating her own pieces. 

“If I were you,” Clide said, “That pawn should be moved.”

“Let me think Clide,” Dia complained.

“Just saying.”

“Well…” Dia moved the pawn. “You need to wait your turn.”

“Ask Ru to play with you,” Keenin suggested. 

The man Ru was hanging near the end of the cart peeling potatoes by flaking away large round chunks.

“He’s as dull as a rusty knife,” Clide said. 

“He can hear us,” Dia mentioned. She cautiously moved her knight up.

“Your point being,” Clide said. 

“It’s not as though we’ve been much help either,” Keenin told him. 

The wagon had not drawn attention despite the other refugees and merchants mulling along the road. He knew why. Keenin had lain awake during their roadside stop to see Vindice delicately cut her hand and paint over the markings on the wagon. If the adults couldn’t bend the world in his favor, then no one likely could.

“Young master Clide didn’t need to come,” Ru said. “Miss Vindice is being exceptionally kind to let you all in here.”

“The hell is that supposed to mean,” Clide complained. 

“I mean only a silly child would cast real magic as part of a show. Showing unique talent is a quick way to get kidnaped. You two should quit relying on your friend.”

“It’s fine,” Keenin said. 

“So they can use you?” Ru spoke.

“They helped me more than you know. Paying them back with my talents is nothing and I can defend myself just fine,” Keenin spoke out.

Besides. It had made Dia happy. 

“Keenin. I should have realized the attention from that show,” Dia said. 

“I said it was fine. Fate has been against me for a while now,” Keenin said.

“That is war,” Ru said. “All we can hope for is that it ends. Or we can join the list of the brave who did the ending.”

The knife held in Ru’s bandaged hand continued to skim off rough slices of potato peel. Last night’s meal had been freshly caught pheasant with carrot, lots of carrots. 

“Those warring humans should have stayed home because I hear the gods are still out there and with this much noise, one is sure to notice,” Clide said. 

Keenin noticed the Dia was winning their game of chess.

“You sound content to sleep through it eh,” Ru said. 

“I wonder if you would appreciate my help,” Clide stated.

He dug a hand into a box of apples and pulled up a bottle of wine. 

“What do you say, we quit pretending like these are the last of days and enjoy this,” Clide said. “That way when we get robbed of these fine goods, it won’t feel so bad.”

“Come on. Put that back,” Ru said. 

“There are some thirsty people outside.” 

“It’s not an issue.”

“Really. Because I heard people talking about us yesterday.”

“You hear conversations out there?”

“We all have talents. Your hideaway cart isn’t standing up to the crowds. If I were you I would come to sit further inside. I mean did you hurt your hand peeling potatoes or drawing blood runes for your girlfriend.”

Ru’s forehead met the back of his poorly bandaged hand. 

“You know what…hand me a bottle.”

***

“Hey, Dia,” Keenin called softly. 

His mind fuzzy from drink, and back aching from the hard surface against his back, Keenin couldn’t recall when exactly the wooden planks below had risen up to meet him or whose foot now rested heavily against his stomach. 

“Are you ok?”

She had told of another long trip, that time seated alone on the back of a hay cart, back resting on prickly bales as the things she knew drifted further away. As she had tried to get as far from her old dead life as possible. And could you believe that she had been married to a carpenter?

“I mean. Are you sure you don’t want to go back?”

“No going back kid,” Ru said. “There is no real going back. Just daydreams.”

 

Chapter 22: The Hero’s Troubles

Chapter 24: Nobody Spared